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Assad Sets Conditions on Relinquishing Chemical Arms

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets on Thursday with the U.N. Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi in Geneva, Switzerland. Kerry is there to meet with Russian officials about disarming Syria of its chemical weapons (AP Photo/Larry Downing). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets on Thursday with the U.N. Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi in Geneva, Switzerland. Kerry is there to meet with Russian officials about disarming Syria of its chemical weapons (AP Photo/Larry Downing).

Syrian President Bashar Assad said his nation would give up its chemical arms only if the United States ends any weapons deliveries to opposition forces and ceases its "threatening" behavior. The Damascus leader made the remarks in a Russian television interview quoted on Thursday by the Washington Post.

"When we see the United States really wants stability in our region and stops threatening, striving to attack, and also ceases arms deliveries to terrorists, then we will believe that the necessary processes can be finalized,” Assad reportedly told Rossiya-24 television.

He said Damascus would start disclosing details about its chemical assets one month after signing an international chemical-weapons ban, in accordance with standard procedure. Damascus on Thursday sent the United Nations an intended "accession document concerning the Chemical Weapons Convention," Reuters quoted an organization spokesman as saying.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry replied that "there is nothing standard about this process at this moment,” due to the Assad regime's "massive" use of chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb last month, the Post reported. President Obama on Tuesday warned that failure by the Assad regime to promptly relinquish control of its chemical arsenal could lead to U.S. military action against regime targets, in response to the Aug. 21 incident, which Washington believes to have killed more than 1,400 people.

Developing a thorough plan to eliminate Assad's chemical arms was the focus of arms-control experts accompanying Kerry for talks on Thursday with Russia, Reuters reported.

President Obama the same day said he was "hopeful" that the talks launched in Geneva, Switzerland, "can yield a concrete result."

A high-level State Department insider earlier said the two countries were expected to examine overlaps and distinctions in their respective intelligence on Syria's "chemical weapons stockpiles,... production facilities, precursor chemicals and [any] munitions that are used to spread those chemical weapons,” the New York Times reported.

Ensuring the safety of any chemical-arms monitors in the war-torn Middle Eastern country is one practical consideration that negotiators would consider. Their discussions might continue through Saturday.

Moscow has sent Washington its proposal for handling the weapons, the London Telegraph said, citing Russian press reports from Wednesday.

A Russian diplomatic insider said the plan calls for Syria initially to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported, according to the Telegraph. The unnamed source said Damascus subsequently would disclose its chemical-arms manufacturing and holding sites, which auditors then would visit, the source added. A deal would follow to establish exact mechanisms for eliminating the stocks.

The Russian envoy suggested Washington and Moscow could jointly handle the Syrian arsenal under the auspices of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative.

"We have seen more cooperation and helpful activity on this matter from the Russians in the last two days than we've seen in the last two years," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a Wednesday press briefing. "The proposal they put forward is very specific; Syria’s reaction to it changes the position they’ve held for years and is a total about-face from the position Bashar [Assad] held three days ago. And that is significant."

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